Teacher Appreciation Week: John Scopes


Our first honoree for mental_floss Teacher Appreciation Week -- don't forget to submit your own stories and win a fabulous prize! -- is John Scopes, the Dayton, Tennessee football coach and sometime science teacher who was famously fined $100 for including evolution in his curriculum. I'm a huge fan (heck, I own Inherit the Wind on DVD) but any tribute to Scopes has to discuss the fact that he probably didn't teach evolution at all. PBS says he "couldn't remember actually teaching Darwin's theory," even though he certainly did believe it. The juicier, albeit slightly less trustworthy, Wikipedia says Scopes, who was approached by interested parties from Dayton to serve as bait the defendant, flat-out omitted it:

After the trial Scopes admitted to reporter William Kinsey Hutchinson "I didn't violate the law," explaining he had skipped the evolution lesson and his lawyers had coached his students to go on the stand; the Dayton businessmen had assumed he had violated the law. Hutchinson did not file his story until after the Scopes appeal was decided in 1927. Scopes also admitted the truth to the wife of the Modernist minister Charles Francis Potter. Scopes was not allowed to take the stand at his trial for fear he would reveal his ignorance and turned down a $50,000 offer to lecture on evolution on the vaudeville stage because he did not know enough about the subject.

Does it matter if Scopes actually taught evolution or not? Sayeth PBS, probably not:

Nobody paid much attention to the defendant. Attorneys for both sides hogged the spotlight in the overheated courtroom. In the words of historian Kevin Tierney, "Scopes was being used. He was completely willing to be used. But essentially the case had been taken over by the big names." On the most sensational day of the trial, when Clarence Darrow interrogated William Jennings Bryan as an expert on the Bible, Scopes actually became a reporter for his own trial -- filling in for a journalist who had left town!

After the trial, Scopes went off to become a petroleum engineer in Venezuela, where no one knew who he was. He later wrote a memoir, part of which you can check out here.